Kopitzke the Quiet Type

It has been a few years since Iowa catcher Casey Kopitzke has been regarded as a legitimate prospect, if ever. He is one of the few remaining members of the 1999 draft class still active in the Cubs' farm system. He is a career .230 hitter with little pop and almost zero power. In spite of all this, he remains valuable to his team and is loosely thought of as one of the leaders in the clubhouse.

The 28-year-old Green Bay native is typically quite shy. He knows that regardless of the amount of reporters on hand for his team's games, they aren't there to talk to him.

The former 27th-round Cubs draft pick has continued to underachieve at the plate this year, but his defense remains strong -- par the course for his career. Kopitzke has thrown out 41 percent of base-runners in limited playing time, which is usually spent backing up Geovany Soto and Jose Reyes. He has yet to commit an error in 164 total chances in 2006.

So what's all the fuss about? To put it mildly, when speaking of Casey Kopitzke, you can't judge the book merely by looking at its cover.

"Casey is all about helping out and doing anything you ask of him," Iowa manager Mike Quade recently said. "Casey will do anything he wants. He knows the game and he understands it. We've talked to him a lot about helping out. When his playing days are over and he doesn't have a future as a player, he'll be fine."

Quade was speaking in regards to Kopitzke's role with the Iowa team this season, which has included the occasional night coaching first base.

Kopitzke himself acknowledges that a career in coaching, or scouting, hasn't escaped his mind.

"It's definitely something I've given some thought to," he said. "My career path has always been to stay in baseball. Fortunately, I've been given that opportunity and I've grown to love it more and more and can't imagine giving it up. I don't know at what level or in what capacity it might open up, but I definitely would want to pursue it."

At age 28, Kopitzke is one of the oldest members of the Iowa Cubs' clubhouse. He keeps to himself, and if not for the catching gear and his daily rounds in the batting cage prior to each of his team's games, it would be almost impossible to tell that he wasn't already a coach.

What separates Kopitzke from many of his competition is that his current .213 batting average doesn't seem to affect him. His priorities lie not within individual achievements, but in helping the team without necessarily having to pad his numbers.

"If we win, that's all that matters," he says. "Coming up through the system as I have, we've had coaches tell us that it's not about us, it's about the team winning. If that includes a 0-for-4 night with me moving a guy over from second base four times, I had a great night."

Kopitzke spent 2005 at Double-A, where in his third different season at West Tenn, he appeared in 55 games. He likely would have started the year at Iowa, but an emergency appendectomy caused him to sit out the first two weeks of the season.

"We had about a week and a half left in Spring Training," he recalled. "The night before, I had to go to the bathroom really bad many times. I ended up having to take Tylenol PM just to fall asleep. I woke up in the morning and I felt like somebody had beaten me in the stomach really bad, like I was involved in a fight or something.

"I was supposed to go to Tucson later that night, but the Cubs told me to get to the doctor because we already had another guy in camp that had his appendix removed. I went and four or five hours later, I was in surgery."

In the off-season, Kopitzke still makes his home in Wisconsin. He grew up a fan of all the local sports teams, which of course includes the beloved Packers. Growing up in the Milwaukee Brewers' market without cable television and thus WGN, it wasn't until Kopitzke's college days at Wisconsin-Oshkosh that he took a rooting interest in the Cubs.

"It's hard not to be a Packers fan," Kopitzke says. "I've been to Lambeau Field a few times and usually get to at least one game a year. I grew up watching Paul Molitor and those guys with the Brewers. When I first went to college, I started following the Cubs more and more and was really hooked on the home run chase with Sammy Sosa in ‘98."

Those days are long gone, but for now, Kopitzke remains rooted in the Cubs' catching plans at the highest level of the farm system. He hasn't lost hope of one day taking his knowledge with him to the major leagues, be it as a player or coach.

"It's been a great ride," Kopitzke said. "The Cubs have treated me really well. I've been fortunate to have people in the organization that believe in me. My forte has always been to make my way to the big leagues because I can catch and throw. I'm here because of defense, not because I'm going to hit 20 or 30 home runs. My job is to help the pitching staff put zero's up."


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